Editorial: For whom the bell tolls

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Editorial: For whom the bell tolls

The Trump Administration imposed a tariff in March of up to 30 percent on Canadian uncoated paper, which just so happens to include newsprint – the stuff newspapers are printed on.

The tariff was imposed following a claim made by a Washington state-based paper mill owned by a New York City-based hedge fund that Canada was unfairly subsidizing its paper industry – a claim rejected by both the U.S. paper industry and its customers.

The Washington-based paper mill – The North Pacific Paper Co. – employs about 260 people.

The businesses hurt by the tariffs – newspapers and printers across the country – employ about 600,000 people.

Last week, about a dozen members of Congress warned that newspapers in their home states are in danger of reducing news coverage, laying off workers or going out of business if the United States maintains the tariffs.

The Daily News underscored the dangers faced by newspapers in this country on Monday by laying half of its editorial department.

Jim Rich, the Daily News editor who was among those who lost their jobs, expressed the impact of the layoffs with a conciseness we have come to expect from the paper.

“If you hate democracy and think local government should operate unchecked and in the dark, then today is a good day for you,” Rich said.

The newspaper industry is not the only one feeling the impact of tariffs imposed by President Trump.

The president has already imposed tariffs on about 4 percent of American imports, including foreign steel, aluminum, washing machines and solar-power products, and a variety of goods from China. The result has been predictable: rising prices for businesses and consumers.

Trump has also threatened to greatly escalate those measures, expanding tariffs to cover about a quarter of all United States imports.

But harmful as these tariffs may be – and there is much evidence of the damage tariffs have already done – none compares with the damage done to a newspaper industry already struggling to cope with the rise of the internet.

Over the last 10 years, newspapers have lost roughly 30 percent of their print subscribers.

Many of those readers have turned to newspaper websites. But high website traffic does not generate nearly the same advertising revenue as newspaper readers.

The result has been across-the-board cuts including editorial departments. This has meant fewer reporters, which in turn means fewer stories that capture the heartbeat of a community or hold elected officials accountable.

Weekly newspapers have, for the most part, been an exception by offering news about local communities not available anywhere else. But they are the rare exception.

And now they too face the cost of tariffs imposed by the Trump administration on an already struggling industry on behalf of a single company.

This should give pause to even supporters of Trump’s policy of getting tough on trade.

The question that they and the rest of us should ask is just who is Trump getting tough with – and who is getting the benefit?

Trump, both during the presidential campaign and as president, has repeatedly accused both print and broadcast news organization of producing “fake news,” called reporters “the most dishonest people on Earth,” and, borrowing the words of Russian dictator Josef Stalin, called the media “the enemy of the people.”

Was Trump targeting his favorite targets with these tariffs? We have little doubt.

The president has consistently gone after anyone who challenges what he says including the Justice Department, U.S. intelligence agencies and, of course, the press.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the Trump administration tariffs on newsprint  “an obvious attack on the First Amendment” on Sunday. We agree.

It is worth noting that in the same week when evidence was presented about the impact of newsprint tariffs on newspapers, Republicans in Congress backed the president by agreeing to water down legislation designed to punish a Chinese telecom company for illegal sales made to North Korea and Iran and what the intelligence community said was a significant threat to national security.

But they did nothing for newspapers.

Even before President Trump began his assault on newspapers, there was a significant segment of the American public who believed the media was biased and got information wrong.

It is true that newspapers do sometimes make errors. The people who work for them are human after all.

But the occurrence of these errors are greatly overstated and when they happen the error is acknowledged and corrected.

And what’s the alternative? Accepting what elected officials say as fact? That’s an answer never found in democracies.

There’s a reason freedom of the press was included in the First Amendment of the Constitution. It was seen as essential to protecting all the other freedoms offered in our Constitution.

Newspapers, especially weekly newspapers such as ours, provide news and information essential to our readers and the communities they live in.

It is in all our interests to defend them.

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